It’s about that time of the semester when I am asked two questions fairly frequently – “What is the difference between a skill and a strategy?” and “Where do we find literacy strategies to teach?” Both are common questions that I am asked by my students who are preservice teachers, particularly as they are beginning to move into teaching more reading and writing content.
Skills are the WHAT of teaching. They are the actions that students take as they are reading a text or working on a writing piece. Sometimes, skills are applied automatically as students are engaging in reading and writing tasks, however, when the skill is not instinctive, strategies should be taught so that the skill can be practiced. I am often asked to name some reading skills, so here are a few: activating prior knowledge, predicting, sequencing, inferring, and summarizing.
Strategies are the WAYS of teaching and they can help students develop an understanding of a particular concept. Strategies are a step-by-step approach that when applied can help accomplish the skill. There are many different strategies that can be taught and implemented in order to reach the skill. For example, in order to teach students the skill of summarizing, strategies such as identifying the main idea and supporting details or determining what a character wants can be taught to students.
In order to better demonstrate this distinction, I have adopted the following strategy to use with my students early in the semester. I ask my students to share one of their personal (non school related!) skills and then demonstrate a strategy they use to apply that skill to their own life.
One of my favorite examples was when a student demonstrated a particular strategy that she applied to her skill of making balloon animals at family members’ birthday parties! She explained to the class that she stretched the balloons in a particular manner, twisting them to create notches which both allowed her to shape the balloons while also reducing the risk that it would pop. This activity allows students to see the connections between skills and strategies and how they work together. In this case, how creating the balloon animal (the skill) is aided by adding notches to the balloon (the strategy).